Unrest in North Africa and the Middle East pushed oil prices back into the news. Prices rose at their fastest level since two thousand eight.Libya is not among the ten largest oil exporters. But the rebellion against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi reduced production, affecting the global market.In March, oil prices rose above one hundred dollars a barrel. Prices went above one hundred forty-five dollars a barrel in two thousand eight. The price of oil affects prices and demand for energy, plastics, farm chemicals and many other products made with petroleum. During the last week of February, Americans paid the second biggest weekly increase in gasoline prices in twenty years. The United States has a Strategic Petroleum Reserve that contains more than seven hundred million barrels of oil. President Obama could use some of this emergency supply to help ease fuel prices. But intervening in the market could hurt oil production in the United States.Oil prices have been rising at a bad time, just as many economies have been recovering from the global recession. Also, several countries in the euro area are still struggling with debt crises. European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet said in March that "strong vigilance" is needed to contain inflation. That could mean raising interest rates which could hurt European countries heavily in debt.In the United States, higher fuel prices come just as General Motors and Chrysler show signs of recovery after their reorganizations. American car sales in February were twenty-seven percent higher than last February. GM led all carmakers with a forty-seven percent increase.High fuel prices reduce demand for big cars and trucks. But economist George Magliano says this time, high prices may be good for carmakers. He says with gasoline prices higher, some people might want to get a much more fuel-efficient vehicle. He says gasoline vehicles get twenty-five to thirty percent better mileage today than they did three or four years ago.
For VOA Special English, I'm Carolyn Presutti. Share your stories about what high fuel prices mean to you. You can comment at voaspecialenglish.com or on Facebook at VOA Learning English. You can also download podcasts on our website and watch videos on our YouTube channel at VOA Learning English.